Saturday, March 17, 2012

The difference between then and now.

When I tell people I am a nurse... especially a nurse in the ICU, it seems as if most have a similar response. A sort of reverence and respect for those of us who dare to work in the business of healing the sick and dying. There is this impression that life in the ICU is thrilling, tough and exciting. You remember that one episode of ER you watched when it seemed like everyone in County General was coding left and right, meanwhile Dr. Greene and Dr. Weaver are saving lives like no one's business and you think... 
"All hospitals must be like that! How exciting!"
  Smarter folks would run for the hills... 
but I digress.

During nursing school and as a new grad I had what they called a "road kill mentality". Anything and everything gruesome and/or extremely unstable was an adrenaline rush... a challenge... a thrill to be sought after. The tougher the assignment the better. It made me proud of what I did. Every opportunity... whether it be putting in a simple IV or assisting with a bedside insertion of an intra-aortic balloon pump... it all was exciting to me and the sicker the patient... the more fun it was. I couldn't wait to sink my teeth in more. To learn and grow. To become a nurse that people revered and respected. A nurse that people came to because I knew my stuff.

But that is not the majority of nursing. The moments of thrill and adrenaline are few and far between and if you are seasoned enough those very moments are moments of stress and sometimes fear. You realize you are the one fighting for someone's life and suddenly this patient in the bed is not a lesson or chance to grow anymore... it is a life.

Nursing is not made up of those action packed moments filled with the rush of saving people. The heart of nursing is centered around patient care. Patient care that includes bed baths and cleaning up things you normally wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole. Nursing is made up of people who are sick and at their worst. People who are often times ungrateful and mean. Family members who are frustrated and defensive.
Nursing is made up of the little things that add up to something big. Oral care on a patient that has been intubated for weeks and has a mouth that smells like a sewer. Nursing is taking care of patients who don't even take care of themselves. Answering to a patient who yells at you and to doctors who don't care to learn your name. Nursing is destroying your back while getting a 300lb patient out of bed with a lift all the while trying to manage IV lines, a ventilator, a foley catheter and a chest tube. Not to mention doing all of these things without help because no one has the time or budget to give us the resources we truly need. Nursing is servitude. Nursing, my friends... is not an easy or glamorous job... it is not always fun and often times it is thankless.

The difference between then and now is learning that the "tougher" assignments are not the ones with the unstable patients that have interesting procedures but the ones that are filled with hundreds of menial tasks that leave you emotionally drained and physically exhausted at the end of the day.
The difference between then and now is the reality that sometimes our callings in life are not exciting or thrilling. Sometimes we are not called to mission fields far off in the middle east or deep in the heart of Africa. Sometimes we are called to serve the least and the last right in our own backyards.
The difference between then and now is learning to love the parts of nursing that are not so glamorous, because at the end of the day that is the heart of what we do. It is the heart of what I do.
We heal the sick and the dying. And for that... I can be proud.


  1. "We heal the sick and the dying. And for that... I can be proud."

    Absolutely agree. Nursing is not just a career, but a vocation. Not a glamorous one, but a servitude. Yet amid those difficulties of being a nurse, is a rewarding job. We, in fact save life and not all people can do that. :)

    Peny@mens scrubs

  2. Good thing I don't need you approval Anonymous...... but thanks for the concern!

  3. Hi!! I started working in the ICU in January this year and I find that what you say to be true. I used to also think that nursing is super exciting with the coding and the new procedures and all that... but nursing in the ICU really is the FUNDAMENTALS of nursing that get you through your day. The turning, monitoring vital signs throughout the entire shift, oral care, orienting the patient, being frustrated but still being able to put a smile on your face at the end of the day... the 'menial tasks' that leave you drained emotionally and physically at the end of the shift is all so true.

    And when codes happen, you too are scared about what's happening and it's not just learning anymore -- it's a life.

    I saw that you just switched to day shift. I'm sure you've already seen new things already as a day time nurse but it really is the same things except there are more visitors, more doctors, more resources to get your job done. Anyway, keep it up! Keep writing. Maybe now is the time for you to be a preceptor where you pass on your knowledge.